Let’s talk about carbs. Carbohydrates, or ‘carbs’, are a major macronutrient and your body's primary energy source. Carbohydrates often get a bad rap, especially when it comes to weight gain. But carbohydrates aren't all bad. Because of their numerous health benefits, carbohydrates have an essential place in your diet. In fact, your body needs carbohydrates to function well. But some carbohydrates might be better for you than others.
The 3 main types of carbs are sugars, starches, and fibre. Fibre and starch are complex carbs, while sugar is a simple carb. Depending on how much of each of these is found in a food determines its nutrient quality.
Most of us tend to equate carbs with bread or pasta, but you can find carbs in a variety of foods, such as dairy products, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes, and sugar foods. Carbs are called ‘simple’ or ‘complex’ on the basis of their chemical makeup and what your body does with them.
- Made up of shorter chains of molecules
- Quicker to digest
- Low in fibre & nutrients
- High glycemic index
- Empty calories converted to fat
- Short-lasting source of energy
- High blood glucose levels = feel tired
Common simple carbs added to foods include:
- raw sugar
- brown sugar
- glucose, fructose, and sucrose
- fruit juice concentrate
Try to avoid high and refined sugar sources of simple carbs and dig into healthy alternatives instead to satisfy those sweet cravings. Need some inspo? Try these healthy snack ideas.
- Contain longer chains of sugar molecules
- High in fibre & nutrients
- Low glycemic index
- Feel fuller for longer
- Consistent amount of energy
- Naturally stimulates metabolism
Fibre and starch make up the two types of complex carbohydrates. Fibre is a great nutrient to have in your diet as it promotes bowel regularity and helps to control cholesterol. The main sources of dietary fibre include fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. High starch foods include whole wheat bread, cereal, oats, rice, and corn.
When planning meals and snacks, it's best to focus on getting your carbs—both simple and complex—from natural, unrefined, and unprocessed sources. Try opting for more complex carbs such as:
- Whole grains (eg quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice)
- Starchy vegetables (eg sweet potatoes, corn)
- Fibre-rich vegetables (eg broccoli, carrots, leafy greens)
- Beans and legumes (eg lentils, chickpeas, black beans)
Why not try whipping up our easy Stuffed Sweet Potatoes recipe?
You'll know that you're getting nutrient-rich foods that are high in fibre and low in calories and saturated fat. Knowing the difference between simple and complex carbs will help you keep your blood sugar levels, and your life, in better balance.